On Thursday, President Trump gave a press conference variously described as morose, upbeat, combative, aggressive, brilliant, and unhinged. Everyone could certainly agree on one thing: it was wildly entertaining.
But it was also wild.
There were too many odd moments to pick a through-line, though the closest would be Trump attacking the media incessantly. Of course, Trump has done that for over a year, and it’s still working, largely because the media have destroyed their own credibility by turning every conflict with Trump into an umbrage-ridden exercise in pomposity. Perhaps the best description of Trump and the media today comes from Emily Zanotti of Heat Street:
The right celebrates that Trump keeps hitting the media with a hammer. The left is shocked that Trump has a hammer. Given today’s press conference, neither is completely wrong.
So, here were takeaways from today’s rather insane presser:
1. Trump Has Never Done Anything Wrong. Trump led off with a recitation of all the wonderful things he’s done so far. “I’m here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration. We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done,” Trump explained. He then cited polls showing his popularity. He got defensive, of course, because Trump hates criticism – he ripped on the media, as per his usual arrangement, and said that “many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth” (Fact check: true); he also stated that the rollout of his immigration and refugee executive order was “very smooth” (Fact check: false), and that his administration was running “like a fine-tune machine” (Fact check: he just fired his National Security Advisor three weeks in).
2. Trump’s Going To Blame Obama. In time-tested Obama-esque technique, Trump immediately blamed Barack Obama for everything wrong on planet earth. Much of this is deserved. But according to Trump, he gets all the credit in the world for the stock market, which seems odd since the stock market climbed dramatically under his predecessor. “To be honest, I inherited a mess,” Trump said. “It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.” True. But let’s hope that Trump does something to straighten out the mess, rather than just complaining about it as Obama did for eight interminable years.
3. Trump’s Going To Blame Everything On The Media. Everything is the media’s fault. He said that intelligence leaks were real, but the news was fake – which only makes sense if he’s saying that the news reports draw the wrong conclusions from the facts they report. Otherwise, it’s just silly. He said CNN wasn’t just fake news, it was very fake news (to guffaws from Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, who also led cheers alongside Steve Bannon). He drove the media batty. It was actually hilarious. Perhaps Trump’s finest moment came when he started talking about how the media hated him: “I see tone. You know the word ‘tone.’ The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such – I do get good ratings, you have to admit that – the tone is such hatred.” He then plugged Fox & Friends. He continued, “I’d be a pretty good reporter..I know what’s good. I know what’s bad.”
4. Trump Will Never Let The Election Go. Trump talked about the polls. He talked about Hillary Clinton. A lot. He talked about her reset button. He talked about her getting questions from the media before a debate with Bernie Sanders (twice). He cited her uranium machinations with the Russian atomic energy agency. He said that he had won the biggest electoral college landslide since Ronald Reagan (Fact check: false). When called on that, Trump said, “I don’t know, I was just given…we had a very, very big margin… I don’t know, I was given that information…actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?”
5. Trump Still Has No Good Explanation For Firing Mike Flynn. Trump said, “Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation.” Why? Because he didn’t tell Vice President Mike Pence that he had discussed sanctions with the Russian government. But Trump said that he would have told Flynn to do that. He even said, “If anything, [Flynn] did something right…he was doing his job. The thing is, he didn’t tell our vice president properly.” So Flynn didn’t do anything wrong but fib to Pence. And Trump knew that Flynn had fibbed to Pence two weeks before Pence found out. And Trump didn’t just ask Flynn to publicly apologize to Pence, he fired him. None of this washes.
6. Trump Didn’t Clearly Answer Whether Anyone In His Campaign Had Talked To Russia. This is the question the media will never let go, although there is no evidence of nefarious ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russians. They believe that Trump was working with the Russians to skew the election. Trump’s not helping. He kept saying he had not personally spoken with the Russians, and then added that he had no personal knowledge that anyone in his campaign had done so, including Paul Manafort. The key here is “knowingly.” Trump concluded, “Russia is fake news. Russia – this is fake news put out by the media.”
7. Trump Will Not Say Anything Seriously Negative About Russia. Asked about Russia placing a spy vessel off the coast, a ballistic missile test, and a Russian plane buzzing a US destroyer, Trump simply repeated “Not good” over and over. Then he blamed the media for Russian aggression: “[I]f you were Putin right now, you would say, “Hey, we’re back to the old games with the United States; there’s no way Trump can ever do a deal with us.” Because the — you have to understand. If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful.” But I know you well enough.” He followed that up with one of the great military lines by any American president:
If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There’s no up-side. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.
Fact check: True. A nuclear holocaust would be the yugest holocaust.
Trump also vowed not to tell the press his Russian strategy, but said he hoped he wouldn’t do anything (“I’m not going to tell you. But hopefully, I won’t have to do anything, but I’m not going to tell you”). Yeah. Just yeah.
8. Trump Takes Everything As A Slight. A few minutes before the end of the presser, Trump began judging questions “nice” or “not nice.” His first question along these lines came from a reporter at Ami magazine, an Orthodox Jewish magazine. The reporter said that nobody was accusing Trump of anti-Semitism, but did Trump have a plan to deal with rising anti-Semitism in the country. Trump immediately accused him of lying, asking an unfair question; he then said he wasn’t anti-Semitic, and said the reporter was insulting. This was rather nutty, to put it mildly. He then called on a reporter who asked him a softball about Melania, and he responded by vowing to watch her network. Later, another reporter asked Trump about rising anti-Semitism; he simply blamed it on the left.
9. Trump Isn’t Deporting Everybody. Ann Coulter hardest hit: “We’re gonna show great heart, DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids…I love these kids, I love kids, I have kids and grandkids…” He didn’t answer if he’d deport DREAMers. The true answer: no way in hell.
10. Trump Has A Weird Idea That A Black Reporter Should Set Up Meetings For Him With Other Black People. April Ryan, a black reporter from American Urban Radio Networks, asked Trump about his plan for inner cities. He called her question “very professional and very good” and then asked her to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. She said that wasn’t her job, she’s “just a reporter.” To which Trump responded, “Let’s go set up a meeting, I would love to meet with the Black Caucus.” This was odd, since April Ryan doesn’t work for the CBC. Ah, well.
To really experience the full glory of the Trump presser, it has to be watched. Trump certainly isn’t going to lack for ratings. And him doing the same routine that got him here won’t alienate his base of support – and him hammering the media into oblivion will help him greatly. But Trump’s wildly varying tone, his defensiveness, his lack of grasp of the issues, his confusing answers about the Flynn firing – none of it is likely to reassure voters who feel confused by the chaos of the last two weeks.